Apartheid-era plunder to be probed after all

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela anticipates she will have some tough questions for the government once her probe into missing apartheid billions gets under way.

This week Madonsela announced she had reversed her initial decision not to investigate allegations that upwards of R26 billion was looted from state coffers via various schemes under apartheid.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela will probe missing apartheid billions. Picture: Phill Magakoe. Credit: INLSA

The allegations originate from a report compiled by a UK-based investigation and asset recovery firm, Ciex, which alleges it was contracted by the government to track billions which were siphoned from the government in the dying years of apartheid.

Leading South African bank Absa is mentioned in the report, along with Nedbank, as alleged beneficiaries of ill-gotten gains.

Absa has confirmed that it has attempted to make contact with Madonsela’s office.

The head of Absa’s group legal department, Marthinus van Rensburg, said the bank would “fully co-operate” with the investigation, “despite firmly believing that the matter was finalised by the Davis Panel investigation”.

“The Davis Panel (led by Judge Dennis Davis) investigated the matter in 2001 and 2002 and concluded that Absa did not unlawfully or otherwise benefit from the Bankorp assistance. Absa was consequently found not to be liable. Absa does not agree with the allegations made in the report, as far as they pertain to Absa,” Van Rensburg said.

The Ciex report also details schemes where funds were allegedly siphoned via US-based companies which were paid for services and goods which were never provided.

Ciex also investigated irregular payments made by Armscor – which allegedly totalled R14.4bn.

Ciex, which is owned by former MI6 agent Michael Oatley, is said to have reported its findings to several members of cabinet, including Thabo Mbeki – who was deputy president at the time – then Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and former Labour Minister Tito Mboweni, who went on to succeed Chris Stals at the helm of the Reserve Bank.

The company had expected to earn a percentage of the recovered funds, but lost out on the anticipated commission.

According to Ciex, the contract, which was signed by former SA Secret Service head Billy Masetla in 1997, was suddenly terminated following the 1999 elections when Mbeki was elected president.

In addition to speaking to the alleged beneficiaries of the looted funds, Madonsela said the government would have to be questioned.

“My approach has been that if we are going to do it, we will go beyond just asking the implicated.

“The government also has to be interviewed in terms of where they stand with this and what was their reaction to this, because remember this was commissioned.

“The starting point is also to find out what has been done since this was commissioned. And if nothing was done, why nothing was done,” she said.

Initially, Madonsela had said resource constraints would prevent her office from investigating, but said she had been swayed by advocate Paul Hoffman, who had submitted the report to her last November.

She wants anyone with information to come forward to expedite the process. - Dianne Hawker